The current regime which took charge of the state of affairs in June 2013, has been claiming to have launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The then Prime Minister has even called the CPEC as a gift from China to his government. The CPEC has been regarded as a flagship project and one of the greatest success of this regime in strengthening Pakistan’s economy.
How far is this true? What is the reality? Whose project is this? This is the subject matter of this article. Before I delve into the detail, it is pertinent to note that the CPEC is one of the six corridors of the greatest Chinese initiative-the One Belt one Road (OBOR). Over 65 countries accounting for 60 percent of the world’s population and 40 percent of GDP are connected through infrastructure development under the OBOR. A project like OBOR or CPEC requires decades of preparation, planning and hard work. Such gigantic project is not launched in a week or a month’s preparation.
Pakistan tested its nuclear device in May 1998 but its preparation started in the 1970s, that is, after the first nuclear test of India in 1974. Decades of hard work, planning and preparation enabled Pakistan to successfully test its nuclear device in May 1998. One government alone, therefore, can not take credit of making Pakistan a nuclear power. All the governments that ruled the country during 1974 to 1998 have contributed to the success of making Pakistan a nuclear power.
As it is said, “Rome was not built in a day”, a project of OBOR or CPEC’s scale could not be launched in a week or a month. This article presents the factual position in a chronological order of the journey towards the launch of the gigantic project-the CPEC-based on official documents of both the countries as well as the published articles of the scholars from within and outside Pakistan. The basic idea is to straighten the facts.
Pakistan-China strategic alliance has been one of the defining features of the relations between the two countries since the early 1960s. The relationship has been tested for decades and now blossomed into an “all-weather strategic partnership” and more recently to “Tie Ge Men”, which means “Real Iron Brothers”. On the other hand, the economic relationship between the two countries has not been consistent at all with otherwise deep and strategic nature of relationship between them.
It has long been felt by the leadership of both the countries that economic relations must be made consistent with the type of strategic relationship that the two countries have maintained for decades. It is in this perspective that a development was made during the visit of President Pervez Musharraf to China on January 17, 2000-right after his assumption of power (see AP Archive, January 17, 2000). During Musharraf’s meeting with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, he emphasized on stronger economic ties between the two countries.
The two sides signed an agreement on economic cooperation and sowed the seed for expanded economic relations between the two countries. During the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to Pakistan in May 2001, six agreements and one MoU were signed in the areas of railways, tourism, telecommunication, petroleum and mining. President Musharraf took up the matter with the visiting Chinese Premier and requested his support for the construction of Gwadar Port. The Chinese Prime Minister reiterated his support for the Gwadar deep sea port construction and gave assurances towards the continued strengthening of economic relationship between the two countries.
Following Zhu Rongji’s reiteration of support for the Gwadar deep sea port, the Chinese Vice Premier Wu Bang Guo visited Pakistan and on March 22, 2002, along with President Musharraf, attended the ground breaking ceremony of the Gwadar Port. This ceremony was held under the banner of “Pak-China Friendship Journey from Karakoram to Gwadar” (DAWN, March 23, 2002).
At the invitation of the Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Musharraf visited China in November 2003. During his visit, both the Presidents signed a Joint Declaration on the Directions of BilateralCooperation on November 4, 2003 which spelt out the new focus on economic cooperation.
The Joint Declaration included several aspects of economic and trade relations including the Preferential Trading Agreement with ultimate goal of establishing Free Trade Agreement; agriculture, industry, tourism, transport to expand trade through Karakoram, strengthening of China-Pakistan Business Council etc. (see Joint Communiqués, Beijing, November 4, 2003).
During Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s visit to China in December 2004, seven agreements pertaining to trade, communication and energy cooperation were signed.
This visit was in line with ongoing efforts to further strengthening economic ties, including cooperation in the field of energy. After the signing of Joint Declaration in November 2003, the year 2006 will be remembered as the defining year for the ultimate launch of the CPEC in 2013 for two reasons: Firstly, at the invitation of President Hu Jintao, President Musharraf visited China during February 19-23, 2006. During the visit, a Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation was signed.
Chinese side agreed to assist in the development of oil and gas sector in Pakistan. The two sides emphasized that overland trade through the Karakorum Highway should be promoted and that they were ready to adopt measures to facilitate such trade. In this context, both sides agreed in principle to upgrade the Karakoram Highway (Joint Statement, February 23, 2006, Beijing).
Secondly and most importantly, at the invitation of President Musharraf, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Pakistan during November 23-26, 2006. Most important developments pertaining to the ultimate launch of the CPEC took place during this visit. These included: i) the signing of an FTA between the two countries; five year Development Programmed on Trade and Economic Cooperation was signed; and iii) financial support for the up gradation of the Karakorum Highway among others (See Joint Statement, November 26, 2006, Islamabad).
The Five year Development Program was the integral component of Pakistan-China Strategic Economic Partnership/Cooperation program. The Pakistani side proposed Pakistan-China Trade, Transport, Energy and Industrial Corridor, commonly referred to as NTC. The NTC was an essential component of the Strategic Economic Partnership/Cooperation. China keenly supported Pakistan’s National Trade Corridor (NTC) project. Both sides agreed to intensify joint study in the various aspects of the NTC (See Dr Akram Sheikh, Blue Chip, April – June 2016)
In summing up, the scope of the corridor/strategic economic cooperation discussed between the two countries during 2004-2007 included: i) the development of Gwadar as a Deep Sea Commercial Port, Oil city with world class refining and petro-chemical facilities; ii) development of Gwadar (by enhancing its port handling capacity) keeping in view that it serves as an alternative port for China;iii) it was envisaged that in twenty years, Gwadar could be developed like ‘Shenzhen’ port city of China; iv) development of Special Economic Zones throughout Pakistan; v) development of appropriate road and rail links from Gwadar and Karachi to Khunjrab and Kashgar (German pre-feasibility study for railway link from Havelian to Khunjrab was presented to President Hu Jintao in April 2008); vi) widening and up-gradation of KKH to accommodate oil and gas pipelines and optical fiber link;vii) development of all aspects of the energy; and viii) strategic oil reserves and oil and gas pipelines from Gwadar to Kashgar (See Dr Akram Sheikh).
The above listed items were part of the discussion between the two countries during 2004-08 under the China-Pakistan Economic Partnership/Cooperation, which also included the concept of corridor. Dr Akram Sheikh, the then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission had remained involved in this discussion during 2005-2008. Anyone who has doubt about what I have stated in this article can confirm with Dr Sheikh.
The work on NTC remained dormant with the change in government in April 2008. The momentum that was generated during 2004-2008 was slowed. China, on the other hand, continued to work quietly on their side. Besides other work, they continued to develop their human capital which were to be needed for OBOR initiative.
Yet another momentous development took place towards the ultimate launch of the CPEC in January/February 2013. Pakistani cabinet of the previous regime (PPP) approved the transfer of Gwadar Port Operation to China from Singapore on January 30, 2013. The formal ceremony of the transfer took place on February 17, 2013 in Islamabad (See Express Tribune, February 18, 2013). Pakistan described the deal as an energy and trade corridor which would not only benefit Pakistan but would also connect China to the Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormoz via the expanded KKH.
The current Chinese President Xi Jinping took charge of the state of affairs on March 14, 2013 and formally announced the launch of the historic One Belt One Road Initiative in September 2013, CPEC being an integral part of it.
In the meantime, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Pakistan during May 22-23, 2013. The Chinese Premier and his Pakistani counterpart (the caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso) reached an important consensus on building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and decided to jointly prepare a long-term plan on CPEC. The central role of the CPEC was clearly defined in April 2015, when President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan during which 51 MoUs/agreements worth $46 billion were signed.
This is the brief journey of the CPEC stretched over 13 years (2000-2013). During 2000-2008, the seed of strong and extended economic cooperation were sowed and nurtured; the CPEC was virtually formalized in the shape of Pakistan-China Trade, Transport, Energy and Industrial Corridor, known as NTC in 2006; the journey towards CPEC continued, albeit,at aslower pace during 2008-13, yet a major development took place with the transfer of Gwadar Port operation to China. During the transition to the next government (May 2013), consensus on building the CPEC was reached. The formal launch of the CPEC took place in April 2015 with signing of several MoUs/agreements during the visit of President Xi Jinping.
It is clear that no single government can take credit for launching CPEC. Several governments contributed to the preparation, development and finally launching of the project. This is a project for the people of Pakistan, for the future of Pakistan and does not belong to a single individual or party.
How much Pakistan will benefit from the project will depend on its preparedness. Bureaucratic hurdles in terms of lethargic and non-serious attitude, lack of understanding of the complexities of the project, little flow of information from Pakistani side and petty politics have all served as headwinds thus far towards the completion of the project in time.
Simply making noises like “game changer” or “fate changer” and claiming the ownership of the Project will not serve the objectives. We need to prepare ourselves by developing relevant skills, strengthening bureaucracy, and training manpower, particularly in Baluchistan. Thus far we have been talkers only. We need to join the league of doers.